This curious mix of dystopian thriller and haunted house chiller opens with some deft and horribly plausible world-building, but ends up as unfocused and rather underwhelming in its execution. In is first feature, Bo Mirhosseni draws on the current political situation, the religious revolution in Iran, and his music video background, to briskly sketch a US of government-approved Christian militias, digital Bibles, and political and religious oppression, but the human drama of his Gilead-like creation is not quite as compelling.

In a theocratic America in the near future, dissident author Alegre Dyer (Jackie Cruz) escapes from prison and meets up with her family, husband Ron (Paul Wesley), and daughter Darla (Murphee Bloom). They’re led by fellow activist Trudy (Rhonda Johnson Dents) to a rundown house, a station on a modern Underground Railroad, where they intend to hide out until the heat is off. The house however has a dark past – indicated by the early discovery of a white hood – and begins to infect Ron’s mind.

When it appears that History of Evil is exploring a dystopia in the vein of Children of Men, it’s an intriguing scenario, particularly when a racial element is added through the discovery of its past owner’s Ku Klux Klan affiliation. But once chains start rattling and strange gasps come from cupboards, then Mirhosseni begins to stretch his story far too thinly. When the previous owner himself begins appearing to Ron in a way incredibly reminiscent of Lloyd the barman and Delbert Grady in The Shining, the narrative simply becomes overstuffed.

If you start invoking something as iconic as Kubrick’s classic, you’d better back it up and History of Evil just doesn’t establish its scenario and setting convincingly enough for Ron’s seduction to the dark side. Criticisms of The Shining would suggest that Jack Nicholson‘s version of Jack Torrance was always patently deranged and just needed the gentlest of prods towards murderous psychosis. Ron’s flip seems far too sudden and complete. On top of this, the abrupt pull of focus from Alegre (who turns out to barely a character in her own right) is ironic to say the least given the theme of fragile masculinity and misogyny. It’s just a deeply weird move to completely foreground the male perspective here. Ron’s insecurity and resentment seems to stem from being in his wife’s shadow – and a hero of the resistance would cast a large shadow – but their relationship is so skeletally depicted that there is simply no resonance.

Mirhosseni’s film does feature some great production design. From the slightly futuristic but recognisable technology, to the juxtaposition of the washed out, run down contemporary version of the house with the saturated colours and fifties aesthetic of Ron’s hauntings, it’s a stylish movie. Yet from such solid building blocks, the finished product is an increasingly vertiginous house of cards that was inevitably going to collapse. Mirhosseni deserves plaudits for the scope of his ambition, but his melding of fascist dystopian drama with haunted house hijinks is a poorly-constructed Chimera.

Screening on Shudder from Fri 23 Feb 2024